WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Jonas Blixt’s memory of raising the trophy last year carried over to a strong start at the Greenbrier Classic.
The defending champion shot a 6-under 64 on Thursday to take a one-stroke lead over former Stanford star Patrick Rodgers and seven others at Old White TPC.
Blixt tied for second in the Masters but missed the cut in three of his last four starts. Returning to The Greenbrier resort brought him back to a comfort zone.
Starting on the 10th hole in the morning with little wind, Blixt had six birdies on his front nine and made the turn at 5 under. Six of the Swede’s eight birdies came on putts of 10 feet or less. He also chipped in from the rough for birdie on No. 16.
“The golf course is in perfect shape, like last year,” Blixt said. “You come back with a bunch of confidence knowing that you won here before.
“If I can get my putter to work the way it did today, I felt like I hit the ball on line every time, and it could be a really good week.”
Rodgers is looking to make his third straight cut since turning pro. He holed a 118-yard wedge for eagle on the par-4 first hole — his 10th hole of the day.
After the round, he was back on the driving range.
“Being a new pro out here, you’re always trying to figure out and establish your routines,” Rodgers said, “and mine is just kind of cool down after the round and working on the things I felt like I can improve, and hopefully be ready for tomorrow.”
Also at 65 under were Chris Kirk, D.A. Points, James Hahn, Jason Bohn, Joe Durant, Jim Renner and Danny Lee.
Steve Stricker, who has wife Nicki carrying his bag this week, was among eight player at 66. Jimmy Johnson, his regular caddie, was already scheduled to carry Chris Kirk’s bag when Stricker became a late entry at The Greenbrier.
Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson played alongside Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, getting a close-up view as he contemplates his three captain’s picks for the Sept. 26-28 event at Gleneagles in Scotland.
“The Ryder Cup’s a long way in the distance,” Watson said. “I’m watching other people as well. It’s fun to be out here to get to know the young players.
Simpson, who shot 71 on Thursday, is 17th in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings and Bradley, who shot 67, is 18th. Others ahead of them in the Greenbrier Classic field are Kirk at No. 11, Brendon Todd at No. 13 and Kevin Na at No. 15.
Rodriguez has ace, leads Nova Scotia Open: In Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Rodriguez had a hole-in-one and another eagle Thursday in the Web.com Tour’s Nova Scotia Open en route to an 8-under 63 and a two-stroke lead.
Rodriguez holed a 9-iron from 166 yards on No. 5, and made a 30-yard chip for eagle on the par-5 17th.
David Skinns, James Sacheck and Aaron Goldberg shot 65, and Canadian Adam Hadwin, the Chile Classic winner in March, was another stroke back along with Henrik Norlander.
Stadler FIRES BOGEY-FREE 64: In Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France, in his French Open debut, Kevin Stadler shot a bogey-free 7-under 64 to lead by a stroke after the first round.
The American golfer, who won the Phoenix Open in February and shared eighth place at the Masters in April, made seven birdies on a punishing golf course that will host the Ryder Cup in 2018.
Marcel Siem of Germany was in second place, one stroke clear of Stephen Gallacher of Scotland.
Jamie Donaldson of Wales and Felipe Aguilar of Chile were tied for fourth at 4 under.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell (70) and U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer (72) stayed in contention while Padraig Harrington (74), Thomas Bjorn (76) and Victor Dubuisson (76) will need a good performance in the second round on Friday to make the cut.
U.S. Senior Open
BACK INJURY SIDELINES COUPLES: In Edmond, Okla., Fred Couples withdrew from the U.S. Senior Open on Thursday because of a back injury, and Craig Stadler and Graham Marsh also pulled out of the event next week at Oak Tree National.
Couples, second in the 2010 tournament, was replaced by John Harris, the first alternate from the Byron, Minnesota, sectional qualifier.
Stadler also cited a back injury, and Marsh, the Australian who won the 1997 U.S. Senior, pulled out because of an undisclosed injury. Stadler was replaced by David Ishii, and Marsh’s spot went to Bruce Vaughan.